Job figures are horrendous but hardly a surprise

This was always an ideological attack on the state and the young are going to have to pay.

The ONS data release on the labour market this morning was horrendous. Unemployment jumped to 8.1 per cent, up 0.4 per cent on the quarter. The total number of unemployed hit 2.57 million, which is the largest quarterly increase since the three months to July 2009. Nearly 900,000 have been unemployed for at least a year and 425,000 for at least two years. The unemployment rate is now in double digits in the north east (11.3 per cent) and in London (10 per cent).

The number of people in employment aged 16 and over fell by 178,000 on the quarter and by 47,000 on the year to reach 29.10 million. This is the largest quarterly fall in the number of people in employment since the three months to July 2009.

The number of people working part-time fell by 175,000 over the quarter to reach 7.78 million. This is the largest quarterly fall in the number of part-time workers since comparable records began in 1992. Inactivity was also up and wage growth remains benign.

Most worrying was the rise in youth unemployment, which is now at 991,000. Next month, it surely will hit the million mark, as the cohort who left schools, colleges and universities fail to find jobs. Plus, of the 17,000 increase in the claimant count, 9,900 was among 18-to-24-year-olds.

The youth unemployment rate was 21.3 per cent over the three months between June and August 2011, an increase of 1.6 per cent on the previous quarter. Worst of all, a quarter of a million youngsters under the age of 25 have been unemployed for at least a year. Long spells of unemployment while young can create permanent scars.

The rise in youth unemployment is hardly a surprise, given the government abolished the Future Jobs Fund and the Educational Maintenance Allowance and reduced the number of university places. This coalition appears to be dead set on creating a lost generation. I first started warning that this was coming in 2009 and the Labour government responded and successfully got youth unemployment down, so the blame for the rise rests entirely at the coalition's door.

Interestingly, the ONS also reports an alternative measure of youth unemployment. This measure, which was introduced in its April 2011 data release, measures the youth unemployment rate "excluding people in full-time education". According to this measure, there were 721,000 unemployed 16-to-24-year-olds between June and August 2011.

This alternative measure of youth unemployment was introduced by ONS back in Spring 2011 in response to pressure from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, who argued that this was the most appropriate measure to focus on. Youth unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds increased by 74,000; the number of unemployed who were not in full-time education increased by 78,000.

Yes, that's right; it increased by 78,000. Unsurprisingly, we have heard little on this measure today.

In response, the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, said:

It is clear that we are seeing the effect of the international economic crisis on the UK labour market. That's why, last week, we announced the right-to-buy housing scheme to support growth and today we are offering more support for jobseekers as sector-based work academies come on stream, combining real training, work experience and a guaranteed interview. Our new work programme is now up and running and offers people who have lost their jobs flexible, tailored support to get back into jobs and stay there.

I guess Grayling has to blame somebody but his comments are not credible. Unemployment is rising because of the government's failed austerity programme, plus a front-loaded public-sector job cull. Take responsibility -- tailored support doesn't work when there aren't any jobs. Guaranteed interviews will not work when, according to your data, there are 2.5 million unemployed and only 500,000 vacancies.

The work programme is already an expensive failure because there is insufficient demand in the economy, simple as that. Feeble excuses don't wash.

This inept coalition has no strategy for jobs or growth and its austerity plan is lowering growth fast and destroying jobs, as I have been warning for a while. This is as good as it gets, because unemployment is expected to rise inexorably from here for many more months and, based on current policies, it is hard to see where it stops.

George Osborne and his team believed in expansionary fiscal contractions, which mean that cuts in public spending allow the private sector to blossom. There was no believable empirical evidence to support such a contention and it hasn't worked.

I understand from my sources that cabinet members are close to panic as they have no idea what to do now -- the slowing economy has taken them entirely by surprise.

This was always an ideological attack on the state and the young are the ones who are going to have to pay.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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